How ‘Solo’ star Donald Glover (aka Childish Gambino) went from YouTube comic to ‘Star Wars’

Jason LaVeris | FilmMagic

Lately it's felt like Donald Glover is everywhere. He writes and stars in Emmy-winning television series, FX's "Atlanta"; he performed (and won) at the 2018 Grammy Awards as his hip-hop alter ego, Childish Gambino; and he hosted "Saturday Night Live" on NBC, acting in sketches and serving as the show's musical guest. Most recently, the video for his latest single, "This Is America," which serves up commentary on everything from gun violence to racial politics, has garnered 185 million YouTube views since it's May 5 debut.

Now, Glover, 34, is adding an iconic movie role to his ever-expanding resumè. In Walt Disney's "Solo: A Star Wars Story," Glover stars as a younger version of Lando Calrissian, the intergalactic smuggler and gambler character made famous by actor Billy Dee Williams in the original "Star Wars" trilogy. The movie, in theaters Friday, is expected to have a shot at setting a new box-office record for a Memorial Day weekend opening.

But when Glover got his start in show business over a dozen years ago, his abundance of talent was still just being discovered.

Glover, who graduated from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts in 2006, formed a sketch comedy group with two fellow NYU students while they were still in college. Called Derrick Comedy, the group made short comedy videos that they posted on YouTube at a time when the now ubiquitous online video platform was still in its infancy (it launched in 2005).

Some of Derrick Comedy's sketch videos went viral, including a 2006 video that skewers college frat-boy culture (called called "Bro Rape"), which today has more than 11 million views (despite being age-restricted by YouTube for potentially offensive language and content).

Before he'd even graduated from college, Glover's online video sketches caught the eye of David Miner, an executive producer on the NBC sitcom "30 Rock," who set up a meeting between Glover and Tina Fey. In a 2010 interview with The New York Times, Fey remembered that Glover showed up to the meeting with just "a packet of sketch comedy pieces" including one about going on a date with someone who turns out to be one of the puppet characters from the now defunct HBO show "Fraggle Rock."

"That sketch made me laugh," Fey said.

This breakout lead used her ‘Star Wars’ salary to pay off student loans

Glover took a job on the "30 Rock" writing staff when he was just 23 years old. It proved to be a big break, as he wrote for the show for three years, making the occasional on-camera cameo, while also getting credit for writing memorable scenes, such as Tracy Morgan's song "Werewolf Bar Mitzvah."

"Donald started right out of college as a writer at 30 Rock," Fey told Entertainment Weekly in 2012. "He was actually still, I believe, living in an NYU dorm. He was an RA, and he would work and go home to a dorm."

In a 2017 interview with Wired magazine, Glover credited Fey with making him want to write for television at a time when he was also experimenting with stand-up comedy, short videos and some early music recordings. "I decided I wanted to write for television because of Tina," Glover told Wired. "She was always so happy, and I was like, 'I want to be happy like that too.'"

Glover's high school classmates certainly would have approved of his first job. They voted him "Most Likely to Write for 'The Simpsons'" in his high school yearbook, despite the fact that he grew up as a Jehovah's Witness and his mother refused to let him watch the iconic animated show.

Still, in 2009, Glover left "30 Rock" to spend more time developing his own stand-up comedy while also trying to distribute an independent movie, called "Mystery Team," which he made with his Derrick Comedy group. He was also starting to make music under the name Childish Gambino, which he put online for free.

That same year, Glover took a starring role on the NBC sitcom "Community," a job that would last nearly five seasons and began to make the comedian a household name. In 2016, Glover said he left "Community" partway through the show's fifth season to force his career "to progress."

By that time, Glover had released two studio albums under the name Childish Gambino, 2011's "Camp" and 2013's "Because the Internet," with the latter earning a Grammy nomination in the category for Best Rap Album.

Over the next couple of years, Glover took small roles in movies like 2015's "The Martian" while he worked on developing the new projects. Those would become the critically-acclaimed "Atlanta," which premiered in September 2016, and for which Variety estimates he was paid $75,000 per episode in 2017, and the album "Awaken My Love," which was released three months later. The album debuted in the top spot on Billboard's sales chart for R&B albums and it went on to win a Grammy for the Best Traditional R&B Performance in 2018. Recently, FX signed him to an exclusive deal to develop content for the network following the success of "Atlanta," which drew 1.8 million viewers for the first episode of its second season in March.

Now, with this weekend's release of "Solo," Glover is adding movie stardom to the growing list of accomplishments in a career that started in his college dorm.

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